Christine Pulliam
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CfA Press Release
 Release No.: 04-17
For Release: May 17, 2004

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David Aguilar (617) 495-7462
Linda St. Thomas (202)357-2627, ext. 108

A high-resolution photo of Dr. Charles Alcock is available online at:

Charles Alcock Named Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

The Smithsonian Institution and Harvard University jointly announced the appointment of Dr. Charles R. Alcock as director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, effective Aug. 1.

Alcock is the Reese W. Flower Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. His primary research interests are massive compact halo objects, comets and asteroids.

"With his skills, experience and expertise, Dr. Alcock is well suited to lead the Center for Astrophysics to new levels of excellence," said Lawrence Small, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. "We're fortunate to have such a distinguished scientist joining the Center, one of the largest and most diverse astrophysical research organizations in the world."

"Charles Alcock is an extraordinary astrophysicist and scientific administrator," said Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers. "I greatly look forward to working with him as we develop the university's program in astrophysics."

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) and the Harvard College Observatory (HCO). As the new CfA Director, Alcock will manage a staff of more than 900 employees (including more than 300 scientists) and an annual budget of about $110 million.

Alcock will hold several titles-Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Director of the Harvard College Observatory, and Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University.

Alcock is the principal investigator for the Taiwan-America Occultation Survey, a project aimed at taking a census of the solar system's population of Kuiper Belt objects (objects located beyond the orbit of Neptune). He also chairs the Observatories Council of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc.

In 2001, Alcock was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors that can be accorded a scientist. He received the 2000 Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize from the American Astronomical Society and the 1996 E.O. Lawrence Award in physics. Both awards recognized his pioneering work as principal investigator on the major U.S. project to search for massive compact halo objects and estimate their contribution to the dark matter component of the Milky Way's halo.

Alcock received his doctorate in astronomy and physics in 1977 from the California Institute of Technology. He began his career as long-term member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. (1977-1981). He was associate professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1981-1986) before joining Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (1986-2000), where he directed the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics.

Harvard College Observatory, founded in 1839, is a research institution of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. HCO provides facilities and other support for teaching activities of the Harvard Department of Astronomy. SAO, founded in 1890, is the largest research center of the Smithsonian Institution in terms of both staffing and budget. SAO moved from Washington D.C. to Cambridge in 1955. The relationship between HCO and SAO was formalized by the establishment of a joint center in 1973.

"Dr. Alcock is widely regarded as a fine teacher and mentor, dedicated researcher and experienced leader," said David Evans, Under Secretary for Science at the Smithsonian Institution. "All of those qualities will benefit the CfA as he takes the helm." SAO is one of the science organizations that reports to Evans.

CfA facilities include:

  • Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, Mt. Hopkins, Arizona - the largest field station of the SAO
  • MMT Observatory - a joint venture of the SAO and the University of Arizona, located on the grounds of Whipple Observatory
  • Submillimeter Array, Mauna Kea, Hawaii - a collaboration between the SAO and the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics of the Academia Sinica of Taiwan
  • Magellan Telescopes, Las Campanas, Chile - twin 6.5-meter-diameter optical telescopes operated for a consortium which includes Harvard University
  • Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory
  • Oak Ridge Observatory, Harvard, Mass.
CfA scientists are organized into six research divisions: Atomic and Molecular Physics; High Energy Astrophysics; Optical and Infrared Astronomy; Radio and Geoastronomy; Solar, Stellar and Planetary Sciences; and Theoretical Astrophysics.

Alcock succeeds Dr. Irwin Shapiro, who has been the CfA Director since 1983. Shapiro will remain at the CfA as the Timken University Professor at Harvard University and as Senior Scientist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

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